President Biden is set to break away from his summer vacation on Monday to fly to Hawaii to inspect damage wrought by wildfires that have killed more than 100 people and effectively wiped out a coastal town on the island of Maui.
Mr. Biden, who is spending the week on Lake Tahoe in Nevada with his family, will be joined on the trip to Hawaii by the first lady, Jill Biden, and will meet with survivors of the fires as well as with emergency workers and state and local officials, his aides said.
The president has come under criticism from Republicans for not saying enough publicly in their view about the fires that turned the town of Lahaina into an inferno on Aug. 8. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser warned that “a warm welcome may not be assured for Biden in some circles on Maui” because of frustrations over applying for aid and cultural sensitivities involving Native Hawaiians.
White House officials have rejected the criticism, saying that the president has kept in close touch with Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Mr. Biden spoke with Governor Green and Mayor Richard T. Bissen Jr. of Maui County on Sunday, the officials said.
“My heart, my prayers and my focus are on the victims of the Maui wildfires and their families,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement released by the White House on Sunday. “I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life. I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy.”
He added that the federal government would respect sacred lands, cultures and traditions in its recovery efforts. “Jill and I are eager to meet with the brave first responders in Lahaina tomorrow, to spend time with families and community members, and witness firsthand what will be required for the community to recover,” he said. “We will be here as long as it takes for Maui.”
As of Saturday, more than 1,000 federal workers were on the ground in Maui, according to the White House, including more than 450 search and rescue personnel. FEMA has provided more than 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots and 10,000 blankets as well as $7 million in short-term aid to nearly 2,200 households, a down payment on what will be a far more extensive investment.
Mr. Biden arrived at Lake Tahoe on Friday evening and has made no public appearances other than participating in Mass at a local church Saturday evening. He is staying on the Nevada side of the lake, at a house owned by Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate investor who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Mr. Biden in 2020. White House officials said the president is renting the house for “fair market value” but did not disclose details.
Staying with him are Dr. Biden and several family members, including Hunter Biden, just a week after a special counsel was appointed to investigate the president’s son.
The Maui wildfires were not the only natural disaster that the White House was monitoring Sunday. Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall on the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico and began dumping rain on Southern California, just hours after a 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck northwest of Los Angeles.
Mr. Biden spoke on Sunday with Gov. Gavin Newsom of California about the tropical storm, aides said.